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The slow transformation towards the digital workplace

It is well known that although Social Business could theoretically unlock a very significant economical impact, realizing this value requires a not linear, not painless process of transformation which, nevertheless, is quickly becoming crucial for the survival of more and more organizations.

Faced with the slow pace of change, it seems pundits are swinging between two equally incorrect and dangerous perceptions: seeing anything through the lens of social or considering social as a plague from which set yourself free as soon as possible and by all means available.

Having reached the peak of inflated expectations, I believe it is time instead to objectively look at the impact informal networks are having on organizations and markets, starting with the figures now profusely available for example through the study just published by Jane McConnell. Given the space constraints of the blog, I will limit myself to pointing out the most interesting Social Enterprise insights, while referring you to the Digital Workplace Trends Report 2013 for any other detail.

It turns out that even if 73% of the participants are moving towards the digital workplace and 93% of them is experiencing some form of social networking among its employees, the gap between technology deployment and effective use is steady at 40%, except for older capabilities with a smaller impact on culture:

How to fill the gap? What is the key to introducing new ways of working that represent a better fit with today’s needs and market expectations?

The 170-page report gives several ideas in this regard thanks to the distinction between the behavior of early adopters and the majority:

  • The diffusion of informal networks for the benefit of employees: early adopters have introduced social networking capabilities 2 times quicker (69% vs 31%) than slower peers being 2 to 5 times more proactive also in respect to knowledge sharing and finding experts / experience, co-creation, comments and ratings, creating communities, sharing photos and videos, activity streams, internal crowdsourcing
  • The management is walking the talk: in addition to being generally in favor, the senior management of the early adopters is 3 times more active as a role model and twice as an engine for the initiative
  • Investments ​​on mobile already made: mobile access will be the priority in 2013 – 2014 (69%) and early adopters have already spent on it two times the investment of the majority with an eye to BYOD (bring your own device)
  • Governance in place: the definition of procedures for decision making, policy and guidelines is between 5 to 18 times more advanced in early adopters despite the huge room for improvement still remaining even in the more mature companies
  • The transformation business processes has begun: 22% of the early adopters claims to have many examples of how collaboration is significantly changing the way people work versus a mere 3% for all the others. 60% of respondents, however, shows the first steps in this direction.
  • Measuring the return of business, not just the amount of participation: while continuing to measure the level of user activity, early adopters evaluate the business value generated by the initiative 2.5 times more than the laggards
  • A culture of sharing, trust and free expression. It’s not possible to say what comes first between culture and effective collaboration, but surely the two go hand in hand with the early adopters that shows an environment with more confidence, willingness to share, ability to voice opinions, involvement of employees by the management
  • Starting from the bottom and from top. Engaging the stakeholders, some benchmarking, some reports are all useful and important steps but early adopters show how collaboration requires an effort that comes both from the top and the bottom. IT is for this very reason that emphasis should be placed on the role of internal champions and the behavior of peers (bottom-up) as well as on the example provided by the leaders and internal communication campaigns (top-down). On the contrary training, physical events, including collaboration in individual goals appear at the bottom of the list together with gamification that is probably still too uncommon for getting better grades
  • Community management, community management, community management. If the community manager is still rarely a new role full-time, more than 60% of early adopters has more or less an official community management support compared to 28% of the others.

Despite these promising approaches characterizing early adopters, dozens of areas are still open for improvement both for pioneers and slow movers. The most striking one are as follows:

  • From deployment to adoption: even among the early adopters, only 25% of participants experience a social networking use by more than 1/4 of the workforce and only 6% by at least half of them with values that are not too far from laggards. The explosion (even 20 points in one year) in the deployment of new tools has not yet translated into satisfactory levels of adoption that remains at 20-25%. This first point should be marked in red. Involvement, adoption, change, cannot be achieved as a hand of creative painting on top of traditional deployments. On the contrary they are the core and key philosophical basis any proposed collaboration initiative should address from day 1. It’s without this that we are still seeing a loss of opportunity / value after so many years.
  • There is still lots of unfulfilled potential: the level of interest remains high with about 25-30% of the companies that have not yet taken the step, but that are about to (“I’m planning or considering introduction). Let’s use this interest to change the world!
  • Mobile is finally becoming an operational channel not just for accessing news, email and calendars but especially to consume business applications needed for daily work (currently limited to 20% of the companies) and by all employees (only true for 27% of respondents). Being always on the move, out from office hours and from the office, mobile is no longer optional.
  • Governance has not made ​​much progress even in the early adopters. The numbers are virtually unchanged compared to 2011 with the vast majority of companies still working on this issue. Governance, rather than as an instrument of control, should be better considered as a lever to focus the action and resources (not only financial ones) needed sustain the project over time.
  • Providing an integrated and consistent experience. The not so linear and hectic deployment of collaboration has surely contributed to massive fragmentation among multiple contexts, applications, access credentials both in terms of experience and multiple applications available. While having an advantage, even early adopters still have works to do in order to put real user needs at the center more than the gut feeling of those in IT department.
  • Budget allocation too unbalanced. Although many understand that technology is not enough, 64% of the budget is still spent on the implementation of the platform, leaving a poor 14% for training and change. The values ​​are even more terrifying for large companies (> 80K employees) where the split is 81% vs 11%. The budget is a good indicator of the maturity of the organization and of the owner of the initiative. Without appropriate resources, companies will never achieve adoption and thus business value.
  • Community management still not widespread. Specifically, the budget for cultivation is still too small with half of the participants not having any community management at all. A terrible confirmation of the findings of the past.
  • The resistance comes from different places based on the maturity level. For those just getting the journey started, top management represents the biggest stumbling block (80%). For early adopters this time has passed and now it’s up to middle management that still stands as an obstacle towards change, together with operational supervisors. Given that change is made up of people and for people, It’s surely good to include transformation as a strategy from the beginning of the project.


Social business is substantially different from the thousands of change initiatives employees have been exposed to so far because it is the first time that it is their role to be challenged through a more weight in the future of the company.

You can’t and you shouldn’t underestimate the scope of this epochal change that deserves to be handled with patience, consistency and dynamics that don’t match with what departments such as Internal Communication, HR, IT have been used to so far. That’s also the reason for the following chart:

Although many organizations have registered some success, the overall picture is rather disappointing and suggests that 50% of them are still in the middle of the journey. A road we learned to be long and dangerous.

For those who were expecting a revolution in a few months, this may represents a delusion but nonetheless the lessons learned from the pioneers are helping everyone else to avoid potential cliffs and properly equip for the big jump.

This post is also available in: Italian

Emanuele Quintarelli

Entrepreneur and Org Emergineer at Cocoon Projects | Associate Partner at Peoplerise | LSP and Holacracy Facilitator

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